Udine 2014 Review: THE JOURNEY, A Feel-Good Road Film About The Ups And Downs Of Cross-Cultural Relationships

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Given its heartwarming appeal and universally applicable message about cross-cultural relationships, from the western point of view it's not really hard to see why Chiu Keng Guan's The Journey has become Malaysia's highest grossing domestic picture of all time. Considering that the country has a long history of affection with more violent and action-packed productions, Chiu's third feature's encouraging success can actually see a groundbreaking shift among Malaysian audiences. 

Since its premiere in 2014's Chinese New Year, The Journey's took in around $6 million and is now opening in another countries across Asia. The film's European Premiere took place at Udine Far East Film Festival.

Though conventional and calculable, the film has all the elements of a delightfully warm feel-good picture that's meant to inspire and please. Chiu dwells on how cultural and generational differences might easily lead to a strong conflict of interests and in consequence cause a stir that can ultimately destroy families. In terms of themes and plot structure The Journey can be easily compared to another similar Asian film, namely Ue Kazuaki's 2010 rom-com My Darling is a Foreigner, however in the end it's the former picture that touches the viewer's heart and soul.

Daughter of a conservative and traditional Chinese-born Malaysian comes back home after many years of living abroad with her British fiancé and in order to please her outraged father has to prove that the man she wants to marry is not just a scary white man, or a "ghost" for that matter, but a viable candidate for the position of a future son-in-law.

An open-minded and strong woman, deep down Bee (beauty pageant winner Joanne Yew) is still mad at her father for sending her to the UK when she was still a small girl. It's only selfish to assume that after a lifetime spent in a foreign country a lady would return to homeland with a partner who's a Chinese traditionalist, but that's exactly what Uncle Chuan (retired Sai Peng Lee), the father, does.

The aforementioned Englishman, Benji (Australian theater director Ben Pfeiffer), is as cheerful and enthusiastic as he is ignorant and hot-tempered. Unfortunately, The Journey offers nothing more than a stereotypical depiction of a westerner who goes to an unknown land without doing his homework first. Unaware of local customs and important traditions, Benji quickly destroys the already non-existent bond between Chuan and himself. Initially he doesn't even try to understand the reality that surrounds him but through a life changing experience finally learns the value of Malaysian culture and its many truly interesting elements.

The storyline reflects on this gradual transformation in an utterly schematic manner, nevertheless gorgeous camerawork and breathtaking wide angles make all the events that lead the character to this new point in life look impressively appealing. "I can now use chopsticks better than a fork and knife," says Benji, perfectly summarizing his transition.

Before the highly anticipated wedding all the invitations must be hand-delivered, and so Bee practically forces Benji to take her father on a cross-country bike trip. What ensues is a lighthearted story, in which many lines get lost in translation, for the characters and for viewers alike. It's actually rather funny that Bee talks with her father in "Chinglish" and he seems to understand everything, but when Benji slowly utters even the easiest sentence in the same language Chuan looks at him flabbergasted. But then, to everyone's surprise, the old man declares he "can understand a little English".

Even if the premise ultimately feels somewhat old-fashioned and overly sentimental, it's undeniably true that The Journey belongs to a category of films that should be devoured with eyes. A panorama of Malaysia's spectacular countryside, it shows the true and uncontested beauty of the country's most remote regions. As any other proper road film set mostly within the wilderness, The Journey gives a lot of attention to the nature that encompasses the characters. With the help of many scenic shots and some insightful takes on local habits Chiu composes a sort of travelogue for the whole family to enjoy.
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